Adapting King: Pet Sematary (2019)

Pet Sematary is one of Stephen King’s most deep and terrifying novels. The author wanted to explore grief and the rituals associated with death, while also telling a story about an evil entity that is omnipresent and infects the lives of everyone who comes too close to its sacred grounds. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong. There is no escape. Sadly, this new film adaptation dismisses the core themes of the novel in favor of a more fast-paced and simple story.

The movie starts with the Creed family moving into a new house. Dr. Louis Creed has decided to pack his bags and move to a small town to spend more time with his kids and watch them grow up. His daughter, Ellie, quickly senses something strange about the place and – after watching a procession of kids wearing creepy masks on their way to bury a dog – starts to ask her parents questions about death and the afterlife.

The novel came out in 1983 and the first movie adaptation was released 6 years later. At this point, everyone knows the plot, and if you didn’t the trailer spoiled it for you. Ellie’s cat, Church, is hit by a truck. Judd, the next-door neighbor that befriends the family, takes Louis to a magic burial ground and makes him bury the cat there. Church shows up the next day as if nothing ever happened. Except the cat has become almost feral and consequently not a single member of the family wants him near them. In this adaptation, Ellie also gets hit by a truck on her ninth birthday, and Louis sets his mind to bury her in the burial ground to bring her back, despite he being aware it is a terrible mistake.

The film has some creepy scenes and decent jump scares. It must be said that the movie does not rely heavily on CGI. The couple of cats who played Church did a great job. Also, the young actor who plays Ellie – Jeté Laurence – gives a great performance as the main villain. The third act of the film succeeds thanks to her.

On the other hand, we have Louis, played by Jason Clarke. The script does not provide Jason Clarke any opportunity to shine. Louis is a great example of an underdeveloped character with no backstory or personality. He is the classic white male protagonist by default. If the screenwriters wanted a different approach to the story they should have made Rachel Creed, played by Amy Seimetz, the protagonist of this adaptation. Her character is more fleshed out here than in the previous 1989 film adaptation. Still, her backstory is only explored through short flashback sequences and a few lines of dialogue so we have someone to relate to during the third act of the film. She seems to be the only sensible person around and the movie would have been far more interesting if it was centered around her childhood trauma and the price she must pay for her husband’s actions.
Viewers do not get to understand how the burial ground really works and throughout the movie, we can see inconsistencies with the timing of the resurrections. Does it take less time the bigger the creature is? Does it take less time the more dead people you bury in the ground? Will the resurrected people keep repeating the cycle until we reach the zombie apocalypse? These questions are never answered and make for a dishonest ending.

Pet Sematary (2019)

The main problem with this new adaptation of Pet Sematary is that it never decides what route it wants to take. A movie cannot be a slow burn and fast-paced at the same time.

It is hard not to make comparisons with the book. Stephen King is an author that really cares about his characters and the horror elements in his work are always secondary. The struggles of the protagonists are what drive the story. When Hollywood filmmakers try to adapt King’s novels they always tend to amp up the horror and ignore character development. Therefore, King’s work is perceived differently by audiences who are familiar with his writing and people who have only seen film adaptations of his books. King taps in the horrors of being human, but his movies – apart from The Shining – don’t.

I would say that this adaptation is, overall, a better movie than its predecessor though. It can be enjoyed for what it is, a generic, goofy and fun horror movie. Personally, I look forward to ambitious filmmaking when it comes to adapting King.